Monday, May 3, 2010

Maborosi and Koreeda Hirokazu 幻の光と是枝裕和

When watching films before it seemed to be without order or forethought, just what I was watching at the time, but I have decided to put a little more rhyme to my reason and discipline for an ongoing spurt of movie watching and re-watching. I have decided to do some films of Koreeda Hirokazu/是枝裕和. The first picture I will discuss will be Maborosi  (幻の光). I will try to do Air Doll  (空気人形), Nobody Knows  (誰も知らない), Still Walking  (歩いても、歩いても),  After Life (ワンダフルライフ), and an old blog entry that tied Hana (はなよりのなほ) to a book I happened to be reading at the time. Koreeda makes great films. As far as Asia is concerned, he and Kim Ki-duk are probably my favorite directors who began working in the past couple decades.    
MaborosiMaboroshi no Hikari幻の光 – Illusion’s Light

This film, made in 1995, is Koreeda’s first big release outside of Japan. Despite it being the oldest, it is the one I have only recently viewed. The film begins in Osaka, with a newlywed couple (Ikuo and Yumiko) who have a newborn son (Yuichi). The first arc of the film which builds up the relationship between Ikuo and Yumiko comes to an end upon Ikuo’s apparent suicide. After the passing of a few years, Yumiko is set up with a man, with some Osaka connections, who has also lost his spouse and is left with his young daughter. This is not the arranged marriage-as-prison film you may foresee, the man, Tamio, is far from a disagreeable person. Yumiko and Yuichi move to the Noto Peninsula (about 250 miles northeast of Osaka) where Tamio and his daughter live. The rest of the film follows Yumiko’s acclimatization to her new situation and lingering feelings about Ikuo.

The film unsurprisingly deals with subjects of loss, transition, and to some degree the classical existential dilemma of absurdity in the face of death. The last theme is admittedly arguable, but the random and unexpected manner of Ikuo’s death is a large cause of the angst and trepidation Yumiko wrestles with throughout the film. Yumiko’s inability to stop her grandmother from wandering off home to her death sets up the idea of futility in the face of death for Yumiko and the audience. The other themes of loss and transition are more obvious rather than inferred.

The other themes tend to have motifs tied to light. Light is used a lot by Koreeda in a variety of ways, often in combination with tunnels, doors, windows, and tatami shots. Moreover there are a few types of light: bright showers of light, dull yellow and at times blue light, and chiaroscuro-esque lighting. The bright showers of light are rare and usually isolate and focus on an object otherwise kept in darkness or dim light. Dull yellow and blue light, especially pale blue light reflecting off the ocean at the Noto Peninsula, tends to highlight burdensome moments, or moments of reflection on loss. These two different types of light evoke different feelings but towards a similar purpose. Lastly chiaroscuro, which is emphasized by the almost persistent use of dark clothes, as if to be in mourning, gives characters a ghostly, featureless presence on camera.

The effect of the lighting and objects that denote transition gives Yumiko especially a transient, depressed air. In contrast, Yumiko’s son and new daughter seem to acclimate easily to the change in their lives. The scene which is an obvious turning point is when the children are playing in the surrounding area a common motif shows up – the dark tunnel, illuminated at the end. The major difference is the light at the end of the tunnel is verdant and spring-like. Yumiko is unable to make a similar transition, and her new husband does not show any similar trepidation ostensibly until later. This is how the tension in the film is carried out. Yumiko sits or tucks away her loss, she hides it like the bell she hides from Tamio later, and the film follows her through it. The other quotidian adults and quick to adapt children serve as useful counterpoints.

Besides lighting, the tatami-level shots in the film add to Yumiko’s meditative, ghostly qualities. Personally, in Ozu’s films tatami-level shots have always represented what goes unsaid in conversation. Often the viewer is inspired with a sense of loss as they have to piece in the unsaid. Although not an Ozu film, it has a similar effect for me. Especially when the tatami shots are coupled with yellow light and black clothing the feeling is amplified. The best example being Yumiko sitting at the main table alone, wearing the usual black garb, with an intense yellow light, and holding the bell she had given Ikuo before his death. The scene evokes a stoic, austere figure – soon to finally break down.

The end of the film has Yumiko following a funeral procession until finally, around dusk, she is standing alone on a rocky shore jutting into the ocean, soon after Tamio arrives. If there is any resolution to the film’s dilemma it is simply everyone has inexplicable moments. Despite Ikuo and Yumiko having a relationship where little seems to be going wrong, with both characters leading happy if modest lives, something happened. What happened is inconclusive, which seems once again characteristic of the inferred theme I discuss earlier.     

The film is a visual film. There is a lot of thought put into the shots and the mood they create, and it shows. That being said, it is purposefully slow in some regards, but it works. If you dislike films like that, work on it is all I can say. The music, composed by Chen Ming Chang, is also well suited to the film.

Next entry will be on Air Doll.

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